The enforced social lockdowns to combat the coronavirus pandemic around the world created a new army of homeworkers.
With restrictions now easing, recent data from our Maru/Matchbox Feel, Behave, Think COVID-19 tracker suggests 40% prefer their work from home setup over office work. It’s a pattern that’s so prevalent that even tech giants like Twitter have announced the end of their global workplace altogether.
But the office is not dead.
Working from home does not work for everyone, with 43% of UK workers preferring to work from the office than at home. One in five (22%) want a more flexible approach to their working pattern with the ability to work both at home and at the office in a way that suits their needs. Under 35s and men have the highest preference for the office, whereas women and over 55s value the flexibility of home working.
The office clearly still has a role to play in the new normal, but what can we learn from the home working experience of the past five months? Employers must ensure they hit the right balance between in-office and flexible home working that will both enable businesses to thrive but also ensure employee satisfaction.
What have we learned from the working-from-home?
The importance of bringing office workers together can be seen in our data, with homeworkers feeling isolated and disengaged after months of lockdown.
Using our System 1 Brand Emotion tool, we were able to uncover the current and ideal drivers of employee engagement that people associate with homeworking. We’ve unlocked a System 1 pathway to how workers are really feeling; and the picture is mixed.
While some homeworkers are content and feel capable working from home, there was an underlying emotion of a commoditised experience that felt out of their control. There are feelings of disengagement and a lack of employee commitment.
Instead, the ideal employee experience is characterised by a high performance and cooperative working experience that drives hope for the future through collectively achieving success in business outcomes. It’s what we often see in office working environments, where teams can more easily come together, collaborate and feel energised.
Office environments clearly have a part to play in delivering on employees’ ideal experience of feeling energised and part of a team. Take Barclays boss Jes Staley who has recently stated the important benefits of culture and collaboration that bringing workers together creates, despite questioning the role of the office post-2020 just weeks before.
If employers are going to move forward with a fusion of office and home based working these important engagement issues need addressing.
We also used a choice based exercise (opposite) to ask homeworkers what was most important to them, and then overlaid the current implicit, emotional experience of working from home.
This raised similar priority issues with one of the worst performing areas being a feeling of isolation/loneliness. However, we can also see new themes emerging, such as the balancing home/work life, access to information and equipment and communications from senior peers.
Creating a working experience ideal for all
The challenge for employers is to combine the best elements of flexible homeworking and office-based teams to create a productive working environment that both suits the needs of the new normal and the diversity of their workforce.
Flexibility is going to be the new normal with some teams in the office and some working permanent remote jobs, or using both as it suits them – employer behaviours, policies and technology must adapt to thrive in this new normal.
Using insights from our research we have outlined three key areas employers and technology tools can focus on to bridge the gap between remote and flexible working
1. Keep me connected
Throughout the lockdown period, employees have felt they don’t have access to the technology or information they need.
This could be excused in the initial weeks as many people grappled with new ways of working, but the continued frustration with technology points to something more.
Users are keen to access the right information when needed. Business and technology partners need to focus on resolution and education so that employees can become more self-reliant and solve tech problems for themselves (while the wider business are reassured that security protocols and best practices to align to IT policy are not short-circuited). This means the sharing of self-serve documentation and creation of user guides in conjunction with offering direct support.
2. Am I at home working or working from home?
School closures, alongside office closures, have forced many to merge their work and home lives more than they would have liked. We can see from our COVID-19 tracking results that the most important factor to homeworkers is maintaining a good home-work life balance, yet many employees feel their current work from home job setup fails to deliver.
Collaborative working tools and policies are vital to ensuring no team or individual is left feeling overwhelmed or isolated. Flexible and collaborative working environments are ideal for those needing to juggle work and home commitments, creating the ability to work in windows far outside the traditional 9 – 5 is key so deadlines are met.
Technology providers able to boost or streamline tools that can support teams with non-overlapping working hours would be ideal so someone starting work later can pick where a previous employee has finished, enabling employees to benefit from teams of people working their 7.5 hours per day when it suits them, rather than having to be online for 12 hours.
3. Connect with me
Communication when remote working is vital to avoid people feeling isolated and disengaged. Workers value communication from both colleagues and managers, but currently manager communication is rated lower than communication with colleagues, indicating employers need to step-up and connect with remote staff.
It is important to keep teams connected with an adequate flow of information and communication so employees have the tools and information they need to succeed. This is where technology can play a key role, both in terms of connecting staff to information but also connecting people – mitigating the remote nature of home-based work. Work based tech that enables collaboration must remember that the ideal emotional signature is one that enables teams not just to work collaboratively, but to stimulate each other and provide that magic spark of hope for the future that is achieved by teams creating a positive, improving culture.
Adapting to flexible working
Businesses across the board must use the learnings and insights from the enforced remote working changes to adapt to the new way of working.
It’s highly unlikely that we are about to revert to pre-pandemic 9-5 office environment. Instead, we’ll see a flexible approach to working, allowing individuals to find a path that best suits their personal circumstances – whether that be in the office, at home, or a fusion of the two.
Thoughts of the office being dead are somewhat premature. But employees deeply value the flexibility of having the choice to work from home if it suits their needs. For technology providers and businesses, this means finding an agile, effective and robust way of adapting to employee needs; it means listening to challenges, testing ideas and innovation and adapting processes to provide the supporting, collaborative and dynamic framework that enables teams to thrive.